Map and Territory Relation

While models are useful in explaining reality, they are not reality itself.


Often described as "the map is not the territory", this mental model refers to the relationship between an object and a representation of that object. The map is an abstraction and imperfect representation of the territory--it is not the territory itself. Note that abstractions are a necessary step in simplifying the complexities of reality (imagine how difficult it'd be to drive in an unknown area without a map). However, we should be aware that these abstractions have limitations and are created using assumptions that may not always be true.


  • Meta-example: mental models are useful in explaining common situations arising in life but they are not life itself. Reality is not bound to conform to these models.
  • The Treachery of Images is a famous painting of a pipe with a caption stating this is not a pipe. In describing it, painter René Magritte said, "...could you stuff my pipe? No, it's just a representation, is it not? So if I had written on my picture 'This is a pipe', I'd have been lying!"
  • This classic clip from The Office is a quite literal example of the map not being the territory.